Type: Review
Pages: 5 | Words: 1312
Reading Time: 6 Minutes

The article under review is “Hysteria and The Teenage Girl” written by Caitlin Flanagan and published by “The New York Times” on January 28, 2012. The author explores a scenario whereby a cheerleader exhibited symptoms similar to those of Tourettes’s syndrome including verbal outbursts, facial tics, stuttering and uncontrollable movement. The symptoms were also exhibited by fourteen other girls in the high school located in Buffalo. Tourette’s syndrome refers to a disorder of the neuropsychiatric system, which can be inherited and is experienced during the beginning of childhood. It is characterized by exhibition of motor and physical responses of the body.

It was traditionally thought to be a rare syndrome involving uses of inappropriate swear words, but research has since disproved this notion. It is no longer presumed to be a rare syndrome since most cases go unreported as most children only exhibit placid symptoms. It is common among children aged between five and eighteen years. It is estimated that 3.8% of the children in the world suffer from Tourettes’s syndrome with the tendency to exhibit symptoms such as singing, blinking, facial movements and coughing. Tourette’s is not experienced in adulthood and it is not known to interfere with life expectancy or the individual’s level of intelligence.

The writer further states that when doctors and school officials investigated the causes of the event, they considered environmental hazards and vaccine reactions, but eventually, they eliminated the possibility of either of them being responsible for the bizarre behavior. The suffering of the girls continued to the extent that some of them dropped out of school. As they gave interviews on the television, they babbled incoherently as their arms flung wildly in the studios. The writer says that she did research on similar incidences and came across an identical situation which had occurred to a group of cheerleaders in North Carolina in 2002. As was the case in Buffalo, the system was first manifested in a cheerleader, and then it spread out to the other girls. Such a scenario had also occurred in The Tanzanian Nation of East Africa in 1962. A laughing epidemic broke out among a group of about 95 girls and lasted for several months. In 1983, 85 girls in Blackburn, England, underwent a session of mass fainting. 900 schoolgirls in the Midwest exhibited symptoms similar to those of people who had been gassed when there was anxiety and apprehension over chemical warfare in the region.

The writer says that all the cases diagnosed above were diagnosed as mass hysteria. In case of cheerleaders, the first girl to succumb was usually under intense emotional or mental distress, which was experienced through exhibition of Tourette’s syndrome symptoms. The other girls “caught” the communicable hysteria due to past incidences of mass psychogenic illnesses such as mass hysteria. I agree with the writer on the hysteria diagnosis. Hysteria is normally used to refer to an emotional state that cannot be controlled or managed.

Victims of hysteria lose control due to intense fear that is normally caused by diverse events that have occurred in their history that were not resolved in their childhood. The fear can revolve around a body part or a surreal problem on the body part. Modern physicians are doing away with the classification of hysteria as a diagnosis and are referring to the symptoms exhibited as conversion disorder or somatization disorder in resonance with guidelines issued by The American Psychiatric Association.

Throughout history, hysteria has been thought to be a condition that occurs to women due to disturbances in the uterus, for instance, during the delivery of a baby. In medieval times, pregnancy was recommended as a cure for hysteria. During the early nineteenth century, hysteria was being treated by medical practitioners as a case of dysfunction of the sexual system. The patient was massaged with a vibrator or water spray on the genitalia to bring about an orgasm.

Sigmund Freud attributed hysteria to the inability of the subconscious mind to accord the patient protection from excessive stress. Hysteria has now officially been categorized into somatic disorder and conversion disorder. In somatic disorder, physical symptoms are exhibited such as paralysis of the limbs or pains in the lower back without any identifiable cause whatsoever. The disorders are not intentional attempts by the patients to gain attention as they are all unconscious having originated from the subconscious mind.

The mass hysteria that the girls in the incidence listed by the writer were suffering from occurs when a group of people have the notion that they are suffering from the same disease and tend to display similar symptoms at the same time. It is also known as epidemic hysteria or mass psychogenic illness. It begins with one individual becoming ill during a period of intense stress. After the single individual displays symptoms of the disease, symptoms such as fits, nausea, headaches and weakness of the muscles begin to manifest in other members of the group. In the Tanzanian case, the laughter epidemic commenced on 30 January 1962. It initially started with three of the girls and thereafter spread to 95 pupils out of a population of 159 pupils. The affected pupils were aged between 12 to 18 years. The teachers were not affected and eventually the school was closed down since pupils could not concentrate in class.

Upon closure of the school, the incident spread to the village where the girls were residing and affected 215 people in the village most of them young ladies. When the school resumed, the epidemic spread to a neighboring school where it affected 48 girls and spread to two other boy’s schools which were closed afterwards. In the Blackburn incident where 85 girls were affected, the girls began to faint, and then they exhibited symptoms such as chattering of teeth, tetany, moaning and swooning. Medical analysis of the event showed that the incident began with fourteen-year-old girls then spread with heavy concentration to the youngest age groups in the school. The most vulnerable people in the group were the younger girls, but the psychological disturbance was more acute and lasted for longer periods in the younger girls. The ones affected by the hysteric episode displayed higher rates of neuroticism and extroversion.

The writer describes hysteria as a retrogressive and non-women-empowering condition that is not supposed to be happening in the 21st century but somehow will not go away. History is full of episodes where young girls in their adolescence exhibit bizarre and weird symptoms. The chances of exhibition of such symptoms are higher among teenage girls than among teenage boys of a similar age. This can be attributed to the emotional and psychological intensity of female adolescence as compared to that of males. Girls are both thrilled and scared by the prospect of womanhood. The transition period alternates between a period of joy and fears of the danger and responsibility that comes with being a woman. Emergence of sexual features and sexuality makes the girls physically vulnerable to the opposite sex.


Teenage girls can succumb to mass hysteria due to the shock experienced during the transition from girlhood to womanhood, for instance, the complex process of menstruation. The girls require support from parents and personal space so that they can be able to sort out the drama surrounding them. The family and the home become more important to a teenage girl at this period than during any other period in her life. She requires emotional and psychological support from her family to emerge from adolescence with strength and confidence to face the world. When girls suffering from mass hysteria are given time and space, they usually calm down and are able to resume their daily activities. Mass hysteria is not madness, neither is it mythical nor deliberate and intentional. It results from subconscious activities in the brain and is easily passed from one person to another in a group of teenage girls due to emotional and psychological instability.

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